Allow me to first ask you to let go of your ankles, stand up straight,
and pull your pants up. Don't worry; it's not your fault.
You may not have even realized that you have been "taking it"
from the fitness industry for a long, long time.
Why should you even
be suspicious, the people that teach college courses about weight training
do this for a living! The personal trainers at your gym are "certified"
which equates to fitness omniscience, right? So how can anything be
amiss in the weightlifting universe?
My friends, amiss it is. And I'm here to expose some truths.
But first, I must warn you. Much of the following information is contrary
to popular opinion. So if you're offended by anything that Oprah's
trainer doesn't endorse - get out while you can, lest the waters
of your fragile reality be stirred.
The Knee Shall Never Cross The Line Of The Toe.
Every new trainer loves to spout this one off as a display of his or
her biomechanical knowledge. They constantly scour the gym-goers movements
on a noble quest to ensure patellar safety across the land. Unfortunately
this unsubstantiated notion is perpetuated and accepted as fact in gyms
These are the same trainers that allow a gross deviation
of the patella to the medial or lateral aspect during an exercise (the
knee pointing a different direction than the foot), which actually is
dangerous and degenerative.
What Is The Patella?
A flat triangular bone located in the combined tendon of the extensors of the leg and covering the front surface of the knee joint. Also called kneecap.
If one were to assess knee injuries in athletic (read as: sport) environments,
it becomes apparent that a high percentage of patellar trauma cases
are sustained while the knee is beyond the all-sacred toe-line. In a
misguided attempt to avoid knee injuries, the exercise community has
therefore made this knee position taboo.
In reality, the opposite reaction
would have been preferential. Since this knee position is unavoidable
in sports, or even in everyday life (try walking up or down stairs or
a hill without your knee crossing your toe line) the proper way to prevent
injuries is to strengthen the musculature around the joint by allowing
the knee to travel into the "unsafe" zone in a controlled
Click Image To Enlarge. An "Unsafe" Zone?
All joints contain feedback mechanisms inside the connective tissue
and joint capsules called proprioceptors. These communicate with your
nervous system to tell your brain what position your joint is at. This
is how you can close your eyes and be aware of exactly what angle all
of your joints are at without actually seeing them.
The Central Nervous System.
human central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord.
These lie in the midline of the body and are protected by the skull and
This collection of billions of neurons is arguably the most complex object known.
The central nervous system along with the
peripheral nervous system comprise a primary division of controls that
command all physical activities of a human.
Neurons of the central nervous system
affect consciousness and mental activity while spinal extensions of
central nervous system neuron pathways affect skeletal muscles and
organs in the body.
To simplify a complicated
issue, the more time you spend with your knee past your toe-line, the
more you teach your nervous system to activate the protective soft tissue
around the joint therefore PREVENTING injury during athletic situations
(Supertraining, Siff & Verkoshansky, 1993).
Close your eyes and
think of a highly successful strength coach. Yep, he agrees. Somehow,
this news just doesn't buy column space in Muscle and Fatness.
So remember this - the "golden rule" that the knee should
never cross the line of the toe during any type of lunging exercise
should be buried in the ocean with the lost city of Atlantis. (Of course,
if this position causes consistent pain, then you should avoid
this particular variation of the exercise).
Full Squats (Below Parallel) Are Bad For The Knees.
More squat myths?!?
We've all heard it, if you dip below parallel during a squat,
your kneecap will blow off and land in the front desk girl's mocha
latte. Well it just ain't true! What's that, you need a
little more evidence? Ok boys and girls, its time for today's
episode of Fun With Musculoskeletal Anatomy.
The knee has four main protective ligaments that keep the femur from
displacing on the tibia (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL). These four ligaments are
most effective at their protection during full extension and full flexion.
Full extension would be when you are standing; full flexion would be
when there is no daylight between your hamstring and your calf. When
the knee is at 90 degrees of flexion (the halfway point), these four
ligaments are almost completely lax and cannot exert much if any of
a protective force at the knee (Zatsiorsky V. Kinematics of human motion.
1998 - published by Human Kinetics - p.301).
Unfortunately, the position where the protective ligaments of the knee
are not doing any protecting is the common recommended stopping point
of a squat. Therefore, as it as it turns out, this is the exact worst
place you could reverse the motion under load.
If flexibility allows (heels staying planted, torso not flexing forward
past 45 degrees), then a full squat where you lower yourself all the
way to the ground is far safer on the knees than the traditional half
Click Image To Enlarge. Full Squats.
Click Play To Start The Video.
Full Squats Exercise Data
Main Muscle Worked: Quadriceps
Other Muscles Worked: Hamstrings, Calves, Glutes
Mechanics Type: Compound
Guess what joint angle most leg extension machines start at?
If you said 90 degrees, give yourself a pat on your healthy knee. This
makes a full squat even safer than a leg extension machine (Wilk K et
al. A comparison of tibiofemoral joint forces and electromyographic
activity during open and closed kinetic chain exercises. Am J Sports
So am I telling you never to do parallel squats? No! Am I saying that
you'll injure yourself on a parallel squat? No, again! What I'm
trying to do is simply make an argument for the safety of full squats,
thereby relegating squat myth #2 to the fiery pits of hades.
It Is Unsafe To Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Or Pick Your Nose Without A Lifting Belt.
It has been brought to my attention that certain companies require
their employees with labor-intensive positions to wear back braces/lifting
When I run a company some day, whether we do labor intensive work or
not, I plan to have my employees use standard issue bone files to grind
away at each other's spines.
Am I a monster? Maybe. But I'm being facetious in order to make
a point. The point is that two scenarios above are about equally beneficial
to overall back health!
You see, every man, woman and child on this planet has been given a
lifting belt. That's right; you arrived on this planet with one
that was factory installed! It's called a transversus abdominus
or TVA. Unfortunately, most people haven't used theirs since they
were on the merry-go-round as a child.
This muscle, the TVA, wraps all
the way around your midsection like a corset, attaching to the thoracolumbar
fascia, which then connects to your lumbar vertebrae or "lower
back". When contracted, it pulls at both sides of your spine creating
something called hoop tension, which then sets off a waterfall effect
of contracting the deep musculature of your torso.
Once this has happened,
your spine is rigid and fully protected, and your pelvic floor muscles
contract, transferring stability to your lower body. Simply by contracting
this muscle, you go from a noodle to a tank.
Now, since our TVA likes its very important job, it takes great offense
to our silly attempts at replacing it. Therefore when we put on some
sort of brace or lifting belt, our TVA decides to relax, robbing us
of stability and spinal rigidity. (This has to do with the relaxation
of our abdominals).
Therefore, not only is wearing a belt unnecessary,
it can cause your nervous system to chronically inhibit your built in
protective musculature. This can lead to spinal degeneration!
There, I said it! Wearing a belt can be worse for your back than not
wearing one! So, if you take heed and decide that I may know a thing
or two about back health, get rid of your belt. Or better yet, give
it to one of your enemies. But do so gradually.
If you've been
wearing a belt for years, gradually taper yourself off of it, and get
used to using your own muscles. Have someone knowledgeable teach you
how to contract your TVA and you will be significantly better off.
Are Belts Really Unnessecary?
Like nearly all things in training, personal experience is the best way to know if a lifting belt is right for you. Check out the top selling lifting belts here.
Pressing Movements Should Stop At 90 Degrees To Protect The Shoulders.
Ok, let's talk upper body. This pressing myth is one is propagated
by trainers at a certain health club that is gradually taking over the
planet (hint, hint... they are open ALL day and ALL night).
It all started when an article was written with good intention by exercise
therapist Paul Chek entitled "Big Bench, Bad Shoulders".
Chek referred to stopping the bench press movement at an individual's
passive range of motion (as low as you can bring your arms without holding
any weight) while rehabbing a shoulder, instead of lowering the bar
all the way to the chest. Unfortunately, Chek's excellent recommendations
for the injured were misapplied to a healthy population.
Somehow, this turned into "everybody should stop their bench
press at a 90 degree shoulder angle, or the shoulders will be damaged
and the chest muscles will shut off".
Now, say it with me:
"That just ain't true!"
Once again, this little myth can actually do more harm than good. Here's
how: from personal experience with hundreds of clients and from statistical
analysis, most people have some degree of internal rotation of the humerus
along with protracted shoulders.
Go ahead, check yourself. Stand sideways to a mirror; relax your arms
down to your sides. Now check yourself. Do your palms face directly
towards each other, or do they face behind you? This is an indication
of the internal rotation of your humerus.
Internal Rotation Poll: With Arms Hanging Relaxed At Your Sides, What Direction Do Your Palms Face?
Too much internal rotation
(hands facing back) indicates that your internal rotators are either
much stronger than your external rotators or it indicates that the internal
rotators are tight (and potentially shortened in their resting position)
and the external rotators are potentially stretched in their resting
Also look at the position of your arms relative to your legs. Do your
arms fall directly down the midline of your thigh, or in front of your
leg? Can you see any of your upper back in the mirror? These tests are
an indication of shoulder position (retraction or protraction).
standing relaxed, your arms should fall directly down the midline of
the thigh and you should only be able to see your chest and shoulder,
no upper back. The more of your back you can see, the worse off you
are, you primate you.
Getting back to the point of this passage, these postural conditions
can be exacerbated by stopping your pressing movements short of full
range. This occurs due to your body's adaptive mechanism of shortening
the fibers in accordance with the range of motion you contract them
Take a look at powerlifters; their careers depend on their healthy
shoulders. They lower the bar to their chest, sometimes even below the
chest line using a cambered bar. A recent study in the Journal of Strength
and Conditioning research listed powerlifting below badminton on injuries
sustained per hours of participation.
More Dangerous Than Powerlifting!
To make a long and complex story,
if you have healthy shoulders and want to keep them, lower the bar all
the way to your chest, slow and controlled. Most people would save their
shoulders simply by adding in some external rotation work for the teres
minor and infraspinatus instead of revamping their entire pressing program.
You Shouldn't Train Abs Before Legs.
Didn't know this one was a myth? Good! However, let's discuss
it anyway since I think this is an erroneous piece of fiction that might
soon gain mythical status within the circle of infallibility known as
the accredited personal training associations.
Credit Strength Coach Ian King for being the first one to really shed
light on this one being a fallacy. At first glance, the theory holds
water; if your abdominals are fatigued then they won't be able to stabilize
the body or the spine, therefore leaving yourself open to possible injury,
or at the very least weakness, during leg training.
Strength Coach Ian King.
But incorrectly assuming that the abs are one unit is the governing
body behind this misnomer. The core of the body can be divided into
two distinct groups of musculature; the outer unit, and the inner unit.
The outer unit is made up of what you can see in the mirror, i.e. the
rectus abdominus, external obliques, and spinal erectors. Traditional
abdominal exercises such as curl-ups, knee raises etc. target the outer
unit musculature almost exclusively.
The inner unit is made up of the transversus abdominus, the multifidus,
the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor muscles. Spinal stabilization is
provided almost entirely by the inner unit musculature, therefore any
ab exercises done before a leg workout will cause no significant impairment
of form or function.
One should, however, avoid excessive inner unit
work to the point of fatigue before a workout for said reasons. Inner
unit work would include any wood chop type exercise, forward or transverse
ball-rolls, or most stability drills, etc.
I'm sure some of you out there are saying,
"... but when I do abs before legs, I feel weaker, so now what do you have to say, you pickle
This very well could be the case, but that is due to your
nervous system's inability to preferentially activate your inner
unit musculature during stabilization needs, and an over-reliance on
using the outer unit muscles to perform this function. This is a problem
that needs to be addressed!
Referred to as "Sensory-Motor-Amnesia" (Chek, P. 1998, Scientific
Core Conditioning. Correspondence Course. Paul Chek Seminars), this
dysfunctional inner unit can come from heightened tension due to hypertonic
muscles, from an over reliance on external apparatus (see myth #3), or
from a series of muscular imbalances that can be determined through
postural analysis and other soft tissue testing.
In other words, get your core in order, dude! Learn to activate your
inner unit musculature with control drills and exercises designed to
hit those deep muscles. Then, when training outer unit musculature,
you won't be fatiguing your inner unit.
HOW DO I GET MY CORE IN ORDER?
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In addition, you won't
impair the function of the inner unit for stabilization purposes. Whether
you choose to do abs before squatting or not, it's important to
recognize how the abdominal muscles are arranged and how to use the
arrangement to your training advantage.
In conclusion, if one thing can be taken away from this article, let
it be to question advice. Blindly accepting the advice of "experts"
can lead to mental atrophy and apathy.
You become a slave to other people's
advice and never learn to think critically for yourself. Dig deep, do
some research, and come to your own conclusions. Or just keep reading
articles at Bodybuilding.com and let us do the work for you.
Marc McDougal is the founder and fitness director of Evolution Training
Concepts, a company that takes cutting edge training and nutrition practices
into the corporate environment. Marc studied Exercise and Sports Science
in college, and has been working in the training/strength coaching field
for the last 8 years.
He is an experienced fitness writer, with many
published articles in the area of strength training, nutrition, and
performance enhancement. Marc can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org,
and you can visit his site at: www.ifitport.com.